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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 69

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part Five

In Part 68 of this ongoing monthly column, I wrote:

“While bodybuilding was not ‘my thing,’ I believe I can safely say that very few Olympic weightlifters or powerlifters first saw a barbell and thought, ‘I want to be a lifter.’ They usually thought, as most young teenagers or pre-teens do that ‘I want to get bigger and stronger and look like that guy,’ with ‘that guy’ being an individual with some type of noticeable or advanced muscular development.”

Based upon both positive and negative feedback (yes, I do get that too, and not limited from my wife!), I would have been better off simplifying and stating that “Most young males who lift weights are motivated to do so by thinking ‘I want to look like that’ and not ‘I want to lift that.’” Though I am certain that there have been few legitimate studies on the subject, common sense and plenty of information about the psychological make-up of the adolescent thought process would indicate that the appearance of strength, power, and confidence is a greater motivating factor than lifting weights in order to compete at what we must accept are two very “niche” and less than popular sports. We may love powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting but most do not. It is also unusual, unless a close relative or friend of the family is in fact a powerlifter or Olympic lifter, to be attracted to lifting in the specific planes of motion demanded by those sports. What I have contended with through decades of involvement with the Iron Game and seeing my articles published since 1969, is the fact, and it is a fact, that many lifters are offended when it is implied that they lift or were first attracted to lifting for physique related reasons. This is not to say that there have not been or are not now lifters, competitive or gym-only lifters who base all of their training around the three powerlifts and their rather well known assistance movements or the two Olympic lifts with the usually associated assistance exercises who began as “lifters” and who entered their specific sport immediately and directly as lifters. With lifters like Mike Burgener and Mike Wittmer as obvious examples, we can look at their sons who both were international level lifters, with Casey Burgener an Olympian. The sons were immediately attracted to and became involved in the sports that had the competitive interest of their fathers with no stops in-between their initial workout and their first foray into competition. However, this is not the usual.



Young Jeff Wittmer in one of his very early competitions. Jeff began his training under the watchful eye of his father Mike, an accomplished regional champion weightlifter, in the basement of his home. There was no exposure there to bodybuilding as there is for most teenagers who begin to lift weights, and Jeff progressed into one of the best lifters in the United States, representing our country in the Pan American Games and other contests.



Jeff Wittmer – Competitive Weightlifter.

One of the guiding lights of Olympic weightlifting, especially in New England and the Northeast, for many decades has been Denis Reno. A competitive weightlifter whose enthusiasm was and remains contagious, and who had a talent for expressing his thoughts and feelings about the sport exceptionally well, Denis also carved out time from a “normal life” of family, work, and other activities to literally be the “Johnny Appleseed” of New England weightlifting. “His guys” were weightlifters and he had a lot of them, with numerous state and regional championships to their credit and many making their way to the national and international level. He has served with many international teams in various capacities and it could be said that few have contributed as much to the game anywhere. He has been a terrific coach and communicator and since 1969 has published the Denis Reno’s New England Weightlifting Newsletter. Even for those who do not live in the New England area, the newsletter has always contained very useful and applicable training information, national and international meet write-ups, regional contest results, and insights to the politics of the sport.



The author and Denis Reno share a moment in the late 1990’s as judges at one of New England’s major national strongman competitions. Denis has been “the man” of New England Weightlifting for decades, promoting, judging, and organizing contests, coaching numerous lifters of all levels of ability, and in all ways, giving all he has to the sport he loves.

There are two points to be made regarding Denis, his lifters, and his newsletter. Many if not most of the men (and I want to point out that his female lifters were also quite accomplished when the time came that they began competing in weightlifting) that Denis trained entered the sport of Olympic weightlifting immediately from their “non-training state” of existence. They would meet Denis or know one of the other lifters he trained, take a look at what was going on, and once exposed to Denis’ shot-in-the-arm enthusiasm about doing the press, snatch and clean and jerk, begin their quest for weightlifting success. Certainly he had lifters who had been culled from the ranks of bodybuilders, powerlifters, gym wanna-be guys, and those who showed up in the gym in an effort to improve their athletic performance but other than a few other groups scattered across the United States, his has been one of the few that had boys or men begin and end their lifting activity as weightlifters. Denis’ crew, like many I saw in the St. Louis area when living there, were youngsters that were introduced to Olympic lifting before they were old enough to have the typical teenage insecurities, thus they “just became lifters,” but this is infrequently the usual course. The usual first stop is the “I want to look like ‘that’” and they eventually find their place in the weightlifting or powerlifting world. This could be said for other gyms, Y’s, clubs, schools, or lifting groups but it has always been the norm for most lifters to have first “done something else” when they began utilizing resistance exercise, and only later wander into the world of competitive lifting. The other point I wanted to make relative to Denis Reno was the fact that in the mid-1970’s, perhaps 1975, I wrote a few articles for his newsletter as did my on-an-off, long distance training partner Mike Hu.

Mike is a lengthy story in himself, a very bright, accomplished, articulate, and strong individual who later became involved in the political world of his native Hawaii but who lived in Boston when we would occasionally train together or eat in New York City’s or Boston’s Chinatown enclaves. Yes, it is true that for one specific weightlifting contest we agreed to drop enough weight to see if we could reduce two full weight classes, just to see if it could be done successfully. Yes it is true that I was too weak to compete and Mike passed out during his clean and jerk, and also true that we pulled it together to finish a six pound pork roast and many platefuls of rice together after the meet. This was followed by an unsteady walk into Boston’s Little Italy where we devoured enough cannolis to cause him to collapse onto the curb and me onto the hood of a car. That it occurred directly in front of the entrance to a local police precinct entry door made for what must have been law enforcement’s first explanation of “Impairment Due To Cannoli.” Mike had a few articles published in Denis’ newsletter and in one, noted that weightlifters were just as self conscious and conspicuous, or words to that effect, “in their Ban Lon shirts,” making reference to an older style, tight fitting, brand name shirt, as were any group of bodybuilders. He received quite a bit of negative comment from lifters and interestingly, I received the same after my comments last month.

Perhaps lifters don’t view bodybuilders as athletic, tough, rugged, manly, purposeful, and/or dedicated as they are but there has always been and continues to be, a less than positive feeling about bodybuilding in the lifting community. The responses in 1975 and the response today being the same, very much proves this point. The negative view was less prevalent in an earlier era, one I have pointed to and stressed throughout this entire series of articles, when “everyone who lifted did everything” but once the demarcation of the three sports began to take hold, lifters did not for the most part, consider it a compliment to be referred to as “a bodybuilder.”

More Next Month

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Titan Support Systems Launches New Website


We’re here! It’s been a long time coming but Titan has finally launched its new web site. The biggest change you’ll notice is that all of our products are now displayed in a very easy to search standard ecommerce format. You’ll find convenient sizing charts, clear high resolution photos, product suggestions and you can even write a review of your favorite product.

Create an account and you can conveniently store all of your purchase histories as well as your shipping and billing information for super quick check out.

This account also allows you to post on our new powerlifting forum moderated by Mike Armstrong and post comments on our new blog.

We’ve also revamped our Titan Champions database. You can search for your favorite lifters by name, weight class, and best lifts. We’re currently transferring dozens of lifters over into our database so check back frequently for new additions.

We also now have a newsletter. Easily sign up for it by looking for the newsletter sign up box on the bottom right of most pages. The newsletter will be filled with great tips, insider information and subscriber only discounts and promotions.

As a special launch promotion we’re offering a FREE vintage 1981 t-shirt with every order over $150!

1. Just go to the product page and add the shirt to your cart

2. Spend at least $150

3. Use the Coupon Code “SHIRT” when checking out (don’t include
the quotes)

Last but not least, we have our new interactive dealer map. You can easily find any Titan dealer anywhere in the world.


Pete Alaniz

President, Titan Support Systems

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History of Power lifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 68

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part Four

If reader feedback is any measure of accuracy, even operating under the assumption that most TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM readers are powerlifters, there is widespread agreement with the statements I have made in the last few columns regarding the differences between and among those who participate within the boundaries of the Iron Game sports. The general consensus is that powerlifters as a group, are “more hyped,” “more outwardly emotional,” and “more nuts” than Olympic weightlifters. I like the “more outwardly emotional” description best and regarding the “more nuts” label, why don’t we just say that most who are obsessed with any aspect of lifting weights probably lie outside the norm on some measure of psychological standards. I of course would include myself within that group as there are not many explanations that would adequately justify for example, working a ten hour day of hard physical labor, attending school for two to three and a half hours on four evenings per week, maintaining family responsibilities, and yet carving out time for two or three brutally difficult training sessions each and every week. Yet, how many of us always approached each difficult week with the thought that “If there is one thing I have to make time for and get done this week, it’s my squat workout”? In drawing comparisons between the two major aspects of the lifting sports, I have avoided commentary on bodybuilding. In part, this comes from the fact that my personal interest was never truly tied to that faction of our activity.

If you go to the newsstand of one of the major bookstores or on the street corners in some of our larger cities, or know how to navigate the Internet well, you can find magazines related to every aspect of activity that finds one even touching or breathing upon a barbell. There are specialty magazines for powerlifting (and how badly does everyone miss POWERLIFTING USA?), CrossFit, general fitness, hard core bodybuilding, “soft core” bodybuilding, women’s fitness, whatever men’s fitness might be, extreme women’s physical development, the Spartan/Tough Mudder type of events, and everything in-between. You just have to know where to look.


More than the York publications, Joe Weider stressed the “get muscles-get the girl” approach to attracting teenage boys to his magazines and products. Muscle Power eventually became Muscle Builder and finally Muscle And Fitness

n the early 1960’s, I was often asked to either immediately remove my copy of what could only be described as a bodybuilding magazine from the inside of my textbook while sitting in the back of a high school classroom or trek to the Principal’s office with the offending, and oft-considered deviant magazine, in hand. The reading choices were limited: York Barbell Company’s Strength And Health or Joe Weider’s Muscle Power. Intermittently, Weider would augment his primary magazine which would later morph into Muscle Builder and finally, Muscle And Fitness, with Mr. America, Young Mr. America, or something designed to introduce “athletes who lift weights” into the consciousness of fourteen and fifteen year olds who he was priming for long-time customer status.


The article titles say it all regarding the focus upon the interests of young teenage boys: “Mold Mighty Arms”; “Build Powerful Legs”; “Terrifying Self-Defense Tactics…”; and the necessary reference to sex, all topics sure to hold the immediate and riveting attention of a fourteen year old intent upon finding his place within his peer group. This brilliant marketing strategy built the Weider empire.

As high school was concluding for me, York introduced Muscular Development which miraculously, had powerlifting based articles or “round ups” that were to that point in time, extremely rare. Less than mainstream, Peary Rader’s Iron Man and Lifting News were difficult to get, especially the latter which was no more than a few pages of strictly Olympic lifting and later, a combination of weightlifting and powerlifting meet results. Although Mabel and Peary Rader would have missed the point with their extremely conservative, Nebraska-based lifestyle, Iron Man’s acceptance as a “regular” muscle or bodybuilding type of magazine, at least in the New York City area, was further limited by its comparatively small 9” x 6” size, which usually found it displayed with the magazines blatantly packaged for a homosexual audience.


Muscle Builder Magazine Cover

I was fortunate enough to have met, spoken with and over many years, established relationships of minor acquaintanceship or those of more significance with many of the leaders in the Iron Game. This included Joe Weider, Peary Rader, and Bob Hoffman of York and at one time or another I wrote articles for publications produced by all of them, either under my own name or in the case of the Weider magazines, often “by-lined” by one of the bodybuilding stars of the day. While bodybuilding was not “my thing,” I believe I can safely say that very few Olympic weightlifters or powerlifters first saw a barbell and thought, “I want to be a lifter.” They usually thought, as most young teenagers or pre-teens do that “I want to get bigger and stronger and look like that guy,” with “that guy” being an individual with some type of noticeable or advanced muscular development.


The February 1964 edition of Muscular Development magazine was the second issue ever published. Though it had a definitive “powerlifting section,” the photo of Mr. “Everything” Bill Pearl and the cover slogan “Devoted To The Science Of Bodybuilding” told its true intentions

This is such a natural response that at one point, after complaining to Joe (Weider) about some of the magazine content of Muscle Power, he reminded me, and I shall paraphrase what he told me numerous times, that he was “doing a favor to all of the fourteen and fifteen year olds” that comprised his target audience of readers. “I sell them a dream, I sell them on the possibility of being big and strong and having all of those muscles and by the time they figure out that you can’t just get that kind of development, they’re hooked on a better, healthier lifestyle.” They hopefully would also be hooked on all of the Weider supplements and home equipment that were touted and featured in his magazines each month. In truth, arbitrarily choosing any date from the mid-1950’s as a starting point, to the early 1980’s, the magazines served as little more than a monthly catalogue for the product line, especially the supplements. In 1971 Nautilus founder Arthur Jones said it most accurately; “Years ago-once having been persuaded to purchase a barbell-most trainees were effectively removed from this category of potential customers; and thus the market was strictly limited-and no great profits were to be made by anybody. But a box of protein food supplement doesn’t last almost literally forever-as a barbell does; and secondly, it is far more difficult to judge the quality of a box of powdered food-if a barbell fails to live up to advertised claims, the shortcoming is obvious, but who can really judge the value of a food supplement?…The fact of the matter is that the subject of diet is probably the most completely understood factor involved in physical training-but not by bodybuilders who have been brainwashed into spending hundreds of millions of dollars on products of little or no value.”


The muscle magazine target audience was also a potential market for self defense courses. In addition to being big and strong, what 14 – 16 year old male doesn’t want to feel as if he could fight his way out of any situation? Nutritional supplements were and remain the foundation of the “muscle building market” and though Joe Weider was in no way a martial arts expert, I am certain he sold quite a few self defense and “How To Fight Better” courses through his various magazines

Though Jones was specifically addressing the bodybuilders who comprised the majority of the “lifting landscape” of the late-1960’s and early-1970’s, if he was alive today he could now perhaps add the statement, “in addition to bodybuilders, those seeking enhanced athletic performance as a reflection of what is now an acceptable level of participation in competitive, athletic and performance activity events, also spend hundreds of millions of dollars on products of little or no value.” Forty-three years after Arthur’s initial comments, nothing has changed in the nutritional supplement industry and nothing has significantly changed within the pages of most of the magazines. There are “celebrity” articles, limited training information, and a majority of nutrition and/or supplement related articles, information, and advertising. This is what drives the industry as it did from the mid-1950’s and forward. Relative to “hooking young men onto weight training” by appealing to, or preying upon their need or desire to be bigger and stronger, which was the “manly ideal” of the earlier era, the appeal is now to one’s specific desire to “get ripped and have abs” with this somehow construed as a reflection of “being strong” or “in shape.” And if one is interested in sitting in the back of any classroom and reading about the “how-to” steps of achieving their goal, it is still the bodybuilding type of look that serves as the lure.

More Next Month!

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 67

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part Three

In last month’s column, a computer “explosion” forced me to produce my monthly article as a lengthy e mail, hastily sent to Titan Support System’s editor. Being thankful for many things during the Thanksgiving holiday presented an appropriate and timely opportunity to note some contest and training related glitches which in turn stimulated numerous e mails along the lines of “Gee, you should have been lifting at the Senior Nationals the year that so and so lost bowel control and…” Obviously, there is material for further gales of laughter. However, in the October 2013 column, I took advantage of being the author and included a photo of Dr. Rich Seibert. The exposure was well deserved and it could be said that Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters too, get scant attention in any media outlets other than the few “niche” or “cult like” print publications or internet sites that cater to their specific interests. Even with a successful commercial gym packed with high level lifters and bodybuilders on any particular evening, I would remind our members that we really were the extraordinary minority. As Dr. Rich has also encouraged and attracted so many young men and women to enter the sport of weightlifting, certainly the least popular of the three major “branches” of the Iron Sports, in terms of participatory numbers, he should in fact be recognized for those efforts. Holding his position as a well respected lifter counts too, but my highest level of admiration always goes to those who unselfishly work to enhance any sport they love so much. Dr. Rich reminded me of the first time he brought Curt White, also noted in October’s column, to my Manhattan office.

One of the points I have made through the years is that it’s easy to lose perspective. If one is in a gym or training facility environment, it becomes commonplace to see individuals with interests similar to one’s own, who train with the same levels of enthusiasm and consistency, and reap the efforts of doing so. We as a very small portion of the population forget that an instructive trip to one of the amusement type of parks during the summer months, will serve as a reminder that the overwhelming majority of the populace is overweight, over-fat, lacking in muscle and obvious strength, and generally look as if they haven’t done anything more physically strenuous than carry an extra large pizza from the driveway to the front door. Our perspective is changed and in a similar fashion, life on the streets of New York City is far from the norm any place else, and that includes the other large cities of the United States. When compared to life in a small, rather cloistered town in the Midwest, the perspective truly is very different. As Dr. Rich related, “I don’t know if you remember, but the day I brought Curt to your office, we stopped for a street souvlaki and then came up to the office. When you saw what he was eating, you said ‘Rich don’t give him that, it’s monkey meat !’ …on the way out of the Fisk building, we walked by the food cart again and Curt being rather naive, asked the street vendor ‘Sir, is this really monkey meat ?’ and the guy says ‘Yeah sure she’s a monkey meat !!’….I just remember him turning green…and being very careful about my next cuisine recommendation !!!” The point of course is that when exposed to what are literally a thousand street vendors peddling hot food each day, you develop “an eye” and “a feel” for those that will provide a good meal, and those that pose the risk of instant disease exposure. We wouldn’t have expected Curt to have had that at the time and in an unintended manner, no doubt ruined his day, at least relative to his gastronomic adventures. In a similar manner, its easy to lose perspective and forget that not one in five hundred individuals will understand the nuances of your squat or clean, nor will they care.

Returning to our primary subject, I can’t state that powerlifters are more “competitive” than Olympic weightlifters, they aren’t, but their competitive nature is perhaps often expressed differently. One of the top Olympic lifters in the United States during the late-1960’s through the mid-‘70’s told me that one can “be too strong and get too psyched to lift well” of course referring to one’s participation as an Olympic lifter. I was in the presence of a man who was clearly lifting royalty so was given a moment to ponder what was meant to be an insightful and important statement. Another of the York Barbell Club lifters joined the conversation and after getting the quick summary, immediately agreed. In short, this other legend believed that one obviously had to be “strong” in order to properly compete in the three official Olympic lifts of the day. However, if one were “too strong for their technique” as he succinctly put it, they tended to try to “muscle the weight” to completion and often did not “hold their technique from start to finish.” This I understood because I competed in Olympic weightlifting contests from time to time but not once considered myself to be an Olympic lifter! One very brief look at what I considered to be a properly performed snatch for example, would have confirmed my own assessment to anyone with a smattering of lifting knowledge. I can modestly state that I was “stronger” than the weights I lifted, but a lack of technique did not allow me to express or demonstrate the strength I actually had in the involved musculature. Attending the 1979 or 1980 Junior National Championships in Chicago, I witnessed one weight class won by an individual who was obviously muscularly stronger than everyone else in his class, and two classes that were won by individuals who clearly were not the strongest lifters but clearly, “the best” lifters.


Standing atop the winners’ podium at the 1970 Senior National Olympic Weightlifting Championships is Michigan’s Fred Lowe. If one could choose an Olympic lifter who was exceptionally strong and could direct his intense focus on the task at hand, Fred would have been an appropriate choice. Super strong at any bodyweight, he certainly had technique but was an excellent example of an Olympic lifter who could have excelled at powerlifting and most other sports. Fred would entertain others by occasionally walking across the parking lot on his hands, a seemingly effortless activity that gave a great deal of insight to his extraordinary strength

We can return to my mantra that powerlifting does in fact require a great deal of technique, at least “good,” “successful” powerlifting does, especially over the long haul. “Good” technique has numerous interpretations but if a lifter can develop and become habituated to a lifting posture and movement that suits his or her leverages and ability to generate force, this would qualify as a reasonable definition. Olympic lifting is certainly more technique oriented than powerlifting is. However, like rolling up frying pans, a task done to both train and demonstrate forearm strength and usually done to intimidate my daughter’s potential boyfriends during her teenage years, the “trick” is to first be strong enough to actually do it! The “trick” to Olympic lifting is to first become quite strong and then be able to apply it to the lifts. The necessity for enhanced technique in comparison to the squat, bench press, and deadlift in my opinion, attracts a different personality type to the sport. I can be simplistic about it and state there is an “internal focus” for both groups but perhaps more of an outward or visible expression of that focus among powerlifters; that powerlifters are more aggressive while training and competing; that if a lifter is going to bang his head on the bar or into a wall until it bleeds, it will be a powerlifter long before it would be an Olympic lifter.


Our own Pat Susco who converted his Brooklyn living room into one of the best powerlifting “gyms” in the New York City area prior to being washed away in the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, was always known as operating on the higher end of lifting intensity. “Blood and Guts” lifting was both a figurative and literal term as Pat utilized psyching techniques that included attacking the barbell with his forehead.

This is not meant to imply that any individual Olympic weightlifter is less excited, enthused, or aggressive approaching the barbell, but it does imply that there is a distinct difference in personality types and how they go about the task at hand.

With a promise to wrap up comments related to Olympic lifters that began with our October 2013 column, I must digress to the humorous statements sent after the publication of last month’s piece. Most of the “old timers” who at one point or another directed a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting contest did so because they believed that their area truly needed a meet due to a paucity of events or had a group of lifters that would benefit from contest participation and exposure but had too far to travel or otherwise, faced many inconveniences. Meet direction of course careened into a different direction with the advent of “mega-meets” that were designed to make money for the meet director, and I have no complaints with that, but it certainly changed the “feel” of the lifting sports. Our five annual powerlifting oriented events were done to provide a local venue for local lifters though we quickly attracted competitors from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New England, and even Puerto Rico. One year, our Iron Island Gym general manager Ralph directed a World Championships though “we” as a gym staff supplied the equipment, transported all of it from Long Island to Manhattan and then of course returned it from Manhattan to the gym so that we could open the day following the two day event, set up, broke down, weighed-in, judged, built the platforms, and performed every other arduous task that is necessary to have a successful meet, large or small. Of course this was magnified for a world championships. Rather than say “Never again!” we continued to host and direct our usual five well attended contests annually, until I sold the business in October of 1998. As noted in previous columns, I directed/hosted my first contest, a “real contest,” in the late 1970’s so it was a twenty year run albeit with gaps of non-participation. Many of our meets were first class, a few posed what modern parlance refers to as “many challenges,” and what the military would agree, skipped over SNAFU and TARFU, going directly to FUBAR!

Meet direction changed as the lifters and yes, the culture surrounding lifting changed. Local meets were wonderful affairs because everyone was at least minimally acquainted with every lifter, coach, judge, spotter, loader, and often, audience member. It was a small, cult like community that competed hard against each other with a desire to win, but one with a willingness to do whatever it took to insure a successful meet. When the spotters or loaders were not experienced or strong enough to safely protect a lifter who may have unexpectedly called for huge numbers on the bar, large and strong guys would come out of the audience to spot, guys with the experience to do it. With fewer “lifers” involved in the sport, and fewer willing to commit to being there for the sport and instead solely focused upon the success of themselves and/or their lifters, contests became less fun. In the old days, no one attended local meets unless they were competing, coaching a competitor, were a family member or training partner of a competitor, or a dyed-in-the-wool lifter themselves. This may still be true to an extent, but no one is coming out of the audience to help a meet run more smoothly or safely. They would have to “save it for (their own) training,” “couldn’t take focus off of their friend,” or otherwise, could not contribute to”just” help the meet and the sport.

More next month.